Turns Out Left Wing Politics Do Pretty Well in the Midwest After All

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After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s June primary upset in New York, people like Sen. Tammy Duckworth—who represents the blue state of Illinois—attempted to pour water on the win. “I don’t think that you can go too far to the left and still win the Midwest,” she told CNN. “Coming from a Midwestern state, I think you need to be able to talk to the industrial midwest. You need to listen to the people there in order to win an election nationwide.”


Duckworth’s intervention is part of a patently ahistorical debate about whether or not socialism (or at least social democracy) can win in the Midwest, but regardless, her view was put to the test last night. Michigan, Kansas, and Missouri all held primaries that featured some progressives in the mix. And some of them did pretty well!

Missouri voters across the state gave a resounding fuck you to anti-union politics, rejecting a “right to work” law by huge margins. Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American woman and Democratic Socialists of America member running on a left wing platform, won a crowded Democratic primary in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District and is virtually guaranteed to win election as the first Muslim-American woman in Congress in November. In St. Louis County, Robert McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney who declined to press charges against Darren Wilson after the killing of Michael Brown, was defeated in his re-election attempt by Wesley Bell, a reformer who currently sits on the Ferguson city council.

In Kansas, progressive Democrat James Thompson—who very nearly upset Rep. Ron Estes in a special election last year —won his primary in the Fourth Congressional District by 30 points and will face Estes in a rematch.

There were some disappointments. In Michigan, gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed, the 33-year old former executive director of the Detroit Health Department, finished a distant second behind Democratic state Senator Gretchen Whitmer, although he was well ahead of the animal-abandoning weirdo who poured $10 million into his own campaign. In Kansas’ Third District, Brent Welder, who was running on a platform that includes Medicare for All in what’s known as one of the most conservative states in the country, lost a closely watched congressional primary. And in Missouri, there was a reminder that beating entrenched incumbents is nearly impossible. Ten-term Rep. William Lacy Clay—before him, his father represented the same district for 32 yearsfought off a challenge from upstart progressive Cori Bush, although he did so only receiving 57 percent of the vote to Bush’s 37.

But the problem with the horserace narrative of American politics is that it’s incapable of taking a longer view of things. For the most part, the Democratic orthodoxy that New Deal social democracy was no longer capable of winning elections went essentially unchallenged from the time George McGovern lost the 1972 presidential election to roughly three years ago. This is the first campaign cycle where we’re seeing if it has any legs, and time and time again, it’s proven to be well ahead of schedule. As bleak as the present might be, the future isn’t completely hopeless.

Here’s what else happened around the country last night:

  • It looks like Republican Troy Balderson may have eked out a victory in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District special election over Democrat Danny O’Connor, although current totals have him winning by less than one point and fewer than 1,500 votes. That’s bad news for the GOP in a district that has been in Republican hands for a vast majority of the past century.
  • It’s also still too close to call in the Kansas Republican gubernatorial primary between incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer (who inherited the position earlier this year after former Gov. Sam Brownback took an ambassadorship) and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a top Trump ally and Hall of Fame piece of shit. Whoever wins will face Democratic state Senator Laura Kelly, in what could be a surprisingly competitive race after eight years of backbreaking GOP-imposed austerity combined with enormous tax cuts.
  • In Michigan, Whitmer will face Republican attorney general Bill Schuette, who soundly defeated lieutenant governor Brian Calley on Tuesday night. Recent polls show Whitmer with a single-digit lead.
  • In Washington’s top-two primary, Cathy McMorris Rodgers—the third-ranking Republican in the House—just barely received more votes than Democrat Lisa Brown, who will get a rematch against her in the Fifth Congressional District in November. In Washington’s Third Congressional District, it looks even worse for the Republicans, as incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler received just 41 percent of the vote, a smaller portion than the Democrats who placed second (Carolyn Long) and third (David McDevitt). She’ll face Long in November.

News editor, Splinter